In which I post oh so flattering pictures of myself
Before the pinecones get us all

Another reason you wouldn't want to be Real Life friends with me

This is not typical mommyblogger fare, but I've been entrenched in a history book and I cannot get out of it. And I don't want to. I'm fixated. 

If you grow up with a dad like mine, you learn a few things about wars - ancient, modern, worldwide and obscure - whether you're interested or not. For the most part I was (am) not. I tuned out conversations about Gettysburg, ignored reading recommendations on WWI, begged to be excused from visiting battlefields, did not pay the slightest attention when we drove by pillboxes or memorials or various war leftovers and ruins of fortifications (which there are quite a lot of in Northern Italy and Austria and Bavaria, where we did a lot of traveling.) 

As I've gotten older I've developed an interest in the time periods of WWI and WWII. I love books set during wartime (especially English detective series, be still my heart); I love the TV shows and movies (Foyle's War, Downton Abbey). But I haven't been all that interested in the mechanics of the wars themselves. Hopefully not because I'm shallow and uncurious, but it's like when I read that Churchill biography - all that political and military strategy makes my eyes glaze over. 

What I have been interested in, since I was a little kid, is the Holocaust. Judging from the heaps of middle grade fiction books about the Holocaust I don't think that's so unusual. (And I read all of them.) But I've always felt a little... well, like that piece of history is especially nervewracking to me. I can't remember the context of this conversation at all, but I remember my dad telling me that our family would have been sent to a concentration camp. "But I'm not Jewish!" I think I said, and my dad, who is Jewish, and who remembers relatives with numbers tattooed on their arms, and who had a much better understanding than my elementary-school-aged self, said, "But that wouldn't have mattered to Hitler!"

So began my overly empathetic relationship to all number of tragedies - the plight of German Jews was just my specialty. First I was obsessed with what would have happened to me, if not for the year and location of my birth. And what sort of person would I have been? Brave? Probably not. The more I read the more ammo for my imagination, the more existential crises. Just in the last year or so I read that book about the couple who hides Jews in the zoo in Poland (true story) and oh God could I have done that? 

I have no idea why I started reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Well, actually, I do. Sometimes I like to read history and it was only $2.99 on the Kindle. Plus I like to at least APPEAR well-informed in front of my father. Sometimes. So I downloaded the sample and only a few pages in I knew I would be buying the book. It's a horror story. Literally. I can't tear my eyes away. 

And the thing is, I've been reading this book for a week now and the war hasn't even started yet! I think this is what's most horrifying to me. I thought I knew the story, but I didn't, not really. The war hasn't even started yet and I am gobsmacked by the "rise", which was so easy, so swift, so unproblematic, so helped along by all the people who should have stopped it. THIS political and military strategy is unbelievable. It really is. I keep having to remind myself that THIS HAPPENED. I keep asking myself HOW DID THEY LET THAT HAPPEN? 

I sort of wish I were reading, say, a really excellent YA novel that all the rest of you were interested in and totally wanted to read instead of this ginormous book (seriously, the Kindle says I'm only 30% done) with loads of footnotes. I'm sorry. I DO have other things on my mind, but this is the thing that I want to write down. I feel depressed and fatalistic and Phillip is annoyed with me because he wants to talk about his business trip but I have Hitler on the brain. I had to make chocolate chip cookies to feel better. HITLER IS MAKING ME GAIN WEIGHT. 

I just... I want people to be better than that. Are they? Am I? 

 

Comments

Ursula

I actually think it's kind of good for our priveledged, protected, narsissictic generation to embed ourselves in the horror of WWII every so often... kind of like a pinch on the arm-- wake up and see what we are actually capable of. A few nights ago I watched a PBS documentary on the lost children of Poland during WWII and just CRIED and CRIED. Horrible nightmares. I have no wise words...no clue as to how/why it all happened... just that I think I am better off knowing it happened, and not understand it, then to not know at all.

A'Dell

This sounds like a book I'd love. I'm getting it. Have you read the biography of Marie Antoinette that was published five or eight years ago? OH MAN, it's FANTASTIC. It's not the time period you're most interested in, but it's very, very good in a similar way.

I feel this way about the Rwandan genocide. Like, it was so much more recent and HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Equally horrifying, but after WWII? WE LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN? (And, obviously there are other, similar events, not just Rwanda.) It's very disconcerting to spend time thinking about.

While I was living overseas I met people who lived there at the time and they had stories about housekeepers being dragged form their home and shot in the driveway...Oh, it was awful to hear about and think about being stationed there at that time.

HereWeGoAJen

Actually, this is one of the reasons that I already consider you a real life friend. :)

Hillary

I'm with Jen. I would be thrilled to discuss this book in person, perhaps over wine and cookies. Have you read In the Garden of Beasts? Same time period, but it looks at the reasons why the U.S. didn't get involved sooner. Disheartening, but very good.

Life of a Doctor's Wife

Oh Maggie, I too am fascinated by that time period and horrified and spend time wondering if I would have been brave... or would I have been terrified into going along with Hitler's wishes... or would I have been totally brainwashed into thinking Hitler was RIGHT? It IS depressing to think about. (This is why I have been reading all about Stalinist Russia lately - it's so AWFUL to think of what happened in that era and so mesmerizing to think about HOW it happened. How did otherwise good, normal people let it happen?!?!)

Anyway. I would love to discuss it with you over wine and/or cookies. Or a good stiff margarita. I think Hitler conversations probably require tequila.

Meghan

Doctor's Wife, did you happen to read Lenin's Tomb? It was on one of my undergrad reading lists and I loved it.
Maggie, I think I will have to read this book. I wonder if you are finding any parallels to what we see in this country today? Just curious. I would love to discuss this with you; I miss the discussions I used to have with my classmates in Grad School about things like this. Love, Meghan

Carrie

One of my favorite Max Lucado books has this passage that totally changed my life after I read it, because I've often thought about the question of how I would have acted if I lived at that time. Would I have been willing to put my family's safety on the line to help others? So this passage gave me a lot to think about and really kicked me in the butt. Here's the passage "A few years back, three questions rocked my world. They came from different people in the span of a month. Question 1: Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have
taken a stand against Hitler? Question 2: Had you lived in the South during the civil rights conflict, would you have taken a stand against
racism? Question 3: When your grandchildren discover you lived
during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?
I didn’t mind the first two questions. They were hypothetical. I’d like to think I would have taken a stand against Hitler and fought against racism. But those days are gone, and those choices were not mine. But the third question has kept me awake at night. I do live today; so do you. We are given a choice . . . an opportunity to make a big difference during a difficult time. What if we did?"

This post makes me glad that we are real-life friends!

sara

I think I might have to read this book. I've had a morbid curiosity about how the Holocaust was allowed to happen since I was a kid, too. In 6th grade we had to do a book report on a biography, and when I chose Hitler my mom made me put the book back and choose another. She told me she didn't want "such darkness and hatred" in my head. I chose a book about Angela Landsbury instead. How I made that great leap, I'm not sure. This is one of Elizabeth's (Princess Nebraska) favorite memories of our grade school years. :)

LB

That's funny, this morning before I read your blog, I was thinking about this haunting holocaust novel called Night by Elie Wiesel. I read it two years ago, but it's so horrifying, I can't get it out of my mind...

Meghan

I am an amazon-o-holic lately, but I totally just bought this and All the President's Men. Excited.

Lisa

That is such a very good question. You see the Germans sliding easily into Hitler's plan and you think, how on earth could they let that happen? But look at the parallels in our lives. How many times do we just let our elected officials get away with heinous things because it doesn't directly affect us? How close are we to slipping into communism? How easy would it be to deny life-saving procedures to mentally challenged or elderly people under universal health care? How many babies have we slaughtered in our own holocaust...our "war on women" and babies? How close are we to "encouraging" sterilization for underprivileged women and men...or those who are less educated, lower IQ, disabled in some way? How many of our rights are we signing over to our government in the name of "equal" treatment and opportunities for everyone. How far will we let it go?

We can and should all learn a lesson from history. And do not be afraid to shout if from the rooftops at every opportunity. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it...

Jesabes

I'm buying it. My husband loves reading this kind of stuff. I like it, but usually have so many other things to read I don't. Maybe we can read it together! Is he invited to the wine and cookies party?

(Of course, this might backfire if we both get totally depressed.)

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